A recent study argued that state laws that prevented age discrimination may have actually hurt older workers during and after the recent recession. Under the laws of most states, as well as federal laws, it’s illegal to discriminate against an employee because of his or her age. This means not only firing the employee, but also failing to hire a person because of age, paying the individual less or giving fewer benefits, not promoting, or taking any other discriminatory action because of age.

The study found that during and after the recession, the median duration of unemployment for older workers was tripled. For younger workers, the duration of joblessness only doubled. The authors of the study claimed that during times of normal employment levels, strong state laws against age discrimination help older workers from discrimination. However, during the recession, the authors claimed, the laws weren’t much help against age discrimination, as more older workers lost their jobs.

The authors of the study found several reasons that older workers may have suffered worse than older workers during the recession. First, since the economy was so bad and many employers were laying off thousands of workers, it was a time for employers to have an excuse to lay off older workers that they normally wouldn’t fire for fear of being accused of age discrimination. Also, when employment demand was so weak, companies may have been afraid of hiring older workers for fear of being sued if they later had to lay them off.

Although this study is not conclusive, it’s unfortunate that many companies may choose an economic downturn as an excuse to fire older employees. Under both federal and California law, it is illegal to treat either a job applicant or an employee less favorably because of his or her age, if the individual is age 40 or older. The discrimination is illegal when it involves any aspect of employment, including pay, hiring or firing, benefits, promotions, or any other term of condition of employment.

In addition to prohibiting age discrimination, the law also prohibits harassment on the basis of age in the workplace. Although teasing or offhand comments (such as calling a co-worker “old man”) aren’t illegal, harassment is illegal if it’s so frequent or severe that it created a hostile work environment. The harasser doesn’t have to be a supervisor – the harasser can be a co-worker, another supervisor, or someone who isn’t even an employee of the company.

The difficult thing about age discrimination cases is proving that an employee was discriminated against based on age, rather than another reasonable factor. Obviously, if a company has a history of laying off workers shortly after they turn 60, it will probably be easy to prove that age discrimination has occurred. Most employers, however, will fail to hire or terminate an employee based on age, but claim it’s because of another reason. The employee must prove that he or she was fired, not hired, paid less, not promoted, or suffered another negative consequence because of age.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your age, you have legal rights. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that older employees should be valued for the knowledge, skills, and experience they bring to the workplace. If an employer fires an employee simply because of his or her age, the employer should be legally held responsible.

Call Micha Star Liberty at Liberty Law, age discrimination attorney, if you feel that you have been discriminated against at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients throughout Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area. Call her to learn more about how she can help.

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